Plug-In Partners Campaign, Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager, Austin Energy
The Plug-In Partners Campaign is a national grass-roots initiative to persuade automakers to manufacture PHEV's by demonstrating to automakers that a market for flexible-fuel Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) exists today. Proof of demad will thereby overcome the "chicken-or-the-egg" problem of convincing automobile manufacturers to invest the significant amount of capital necessary to design, prototype, and mass produce a non-market-tested product.
Plug-In Partners Campaign represents the first time in history that a grass-roots campaign started by a city government, partnering with local governments, electric utilities, and environmental advocates throughout the United States, will persuade a major industry (automotive makers) to manufacture a new product, one in which they previously demonstrated no interest. This product, the plug-in hybrid vehicle, is significant because it is generally acknowledged to be the most practical near-term strategy for moving the transportation sector off petroleum and onto renewable energy (i.e. wind energy feeding the electric grid). Plug-In-Partners' innovative strategy is to ease the concerns of automobile manufacturers in regards to whether or not the market would accept a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle by demonstrating that demand -- significant demand -- exists for PHEV's.Technologically, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV's) are a viable and effective substitute for a car-owner's conventional combustion-only or hybrid electric vehicle. Mass production of PHEV's would make the car economically competitive with existing offerings in the passenger automobile marketplace. Environmentally, PHEV's are a huge improvement over conventional combustion-only automobiles, and an improvement as well over non-plug-in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Assuming that these statements about the technology, economics, and environmental benefits are all accurate, then why are PHEV's not yet available to the mass market? Plug-In-Partners' answer to this conundrum is that the automotive companies are concerned that the market is not sufficiently ready for the product to merit the investment to bring the product to the automoble showroom. Understandably, automotive manufacturers are hesitant to invest the significant amount of capital necessary to design, prototype, and mass produce a product that has not been market tested. PIP's mission is, therefore, to solve this chicken-or-the-egg problem in an innovative fashion.
PIP's efforts could lead to the mass production of PHEV's, which could reduce the transportation sector's reliance on petroleum for fuel and reduce the average driver's total lifecycle cost of automobile ownership. Given that the electricity needed to charge a PHEV's battery is cheaper per mile driven than gasoline or diesel, and less environmentally harmful in the vast majority of cases than petroleum, the economic and environmental benefits are tremendous and far-reaching. Given that electric grids all over the world have enormous potential for becoming greener over time, the paradigmatic shift fossil fuel combustion to electric propulsion as the majority of the energy needed to move goods and people has the potential to improve society through reduced air pollution related health problems and reduced reliance on unstable governments and regions for petroleum. In addition, local economies will benefit purchasing energy resources locally rather than exporting local income to multi-national corporations and petroleum exporting countries.
PIP's campaign to demonstrate unmet demand for PHEV's is primarily intended to influence the automotive industry. The automotive industry is the sine qua non of mainstreaming any change in automotive technology, PHEV technology included.The PIP coalition is extremely broad in its membership, including American state and local governments, colleges and universities, national security organizations, biofuel/alternative fuel organizations, labor organizations, renewable energy groups, non-profit organizations, environmental groups, for-profit businesses, utility associations, investor-owned utilities, and public power utilities. (Please see www.pluginpartners.org/campaignOverview/partnerList.cfm for full list of coaliton partners.) This broad -- and diverse and growing -- membership, collectively representing significant economic and political capital, will increase the probability and speed with which PHEV technology will become mainstream.
To date, the PIP coalition has "soft orders" (in essence, non-binding commitments public agency and private corporate fleets to purchase PHEV's) that number 8,000+ PHEV's. In addition, over 11,000 private individuals in the Austin, Texas area alone have signed petitions stating their desire to purchase a PHEV.A benefit of of PHEV's that often goes unnoticed is the ability of widespread PHEV adoption to increase the effective proliferation of wind energy. Assumming that most battery charging will occur at night, PHEV's have the ability to smooth the demand for electricity, utilizing excess capacity at night. Wind power is mostly generated at night, when winds are blowing strongest, yet currently there is no effective way to harness all of that potential night-time generated wind power; PHEV's are an answer to that problem. In addition, PHEV's can discharge their stored energy while parked during the day, thereby easing the strain on electric grids and requiring less peak-demand energy generation, which often comes the most-polluting plants.
Ecologically, reduced reliance on petroleum to power automobiles will lower local air emissions and global greenhouse gas emissions. Socially, local air emissions will reduce the health impacts of emissions and reduced reliance on petroleum will reduce reliance on the parts of the world -- many of them unstable -- where most oil now comes. Economically, PHEV's will reduce the operating cost of an automobile so much so that, even if PHEV's have a higher purchase price than a conventional car, the total lifecycle cost to the consumer will be lower. In addition to benefiting car owners, local economies will benefit through retention off income locally rather than exporting that income to petroleum interests.
The PIP campaign leverages the research and development into PHEV's that has already been done in order to bring that R & D activity finally to the marketplace. PHEV's can alos effectively leverage the gradual greening of the grid.The PIP Campaign can also leverage legislation currently in play at the federal level in the United States that seeks to provide incentives for the purchase of, R & D investment in, and federal fleet purchasing orders for PHEV's. Finally, the PIP Campaign is leveraging the common interests of a diverse group of stakeholders into a coalition unified for a clear and distinct goal -- proving that demand for PHEV's exist.